What is Intuitive Eating?

“Intuitive Eating is a dynamic mind-body integration of instinct, emotion and rational thought. It is a personal process of honoring your health by paying attention to the messages of your body and meeting your physical and emotional needs. It is an inner journey of discovery that puts you front and center; you are the expert of your own body. After all, only you know your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Only you know how hungry you are and what food or meal will satisfy you. No diet plan or guru could possibly know these things.” Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

What is Intuitive Eating?

Since I started spreading the word recently about my Mindful and Intuitive Eating group, I’ve gotten some questions asking what Intuitive Eating is all about, so I thought I’d write up a quick summary here. Intuitive Eating is a philosophy and program with the goal of helping people cultivate a healthy relationship with food and body.  It is a practice focused on enhancing your well being and respect for your body and mind.  As a therapist, it is a tool I use to assist in the treatment of various types of disordered eating and also to help those who may not have an eating disorder diagnosis but are struggling with chronic dieting, anxiety around food and weight, and negative body image.  Intuitive Eating is usually contraindicated for those in the early stages of eating disorder recovery, especially for anorexia recovery, but it can be very beneficial at the appropriate phase in treatment.  If you are curious if Intuitive Eating would be helpful for you, your treatment team can help you decide. There may be some principles of Intuitive Eating you that can start practicing right away and some that can be added later in your recovery.

Intuitive Eating is a practice of tuning in to your body and inner wisdom and regaining trust in your ability to listen to and meet your physical and emotional needs. We were all born with the intuition of what we need to survive but over time we may internalize messages that disconnect us from ourselves. In order to eat intuitively, you have to remove obstacles to attunement such as dieting and external rules or beliefs about what you should be eating or what you should look like. It is important to note that Intuitive Eating is not a weight loss program.  In fact, as you learn about and practice Intuitive Eating it is recommended that you put any goal of weight loss that you may have on the back burner (as you are working on letting it go). The preoccupation with weight loss will get in the way of making choices based on your intuitive signals.  When eating intuitively, you will settle into what may be referred to as your natural weight or genetic set point weight- and this can mean weight loss or gain or no change in weight, depending on the individual. Intuitive Eating is about healing your relationship with food and practicing self-care and body respect, regardless of size.

The practice of Intuitive Eating includes 10 principles.  I won’t go in detail with all of them in this post but here’s an overview: 

1.) reject the diet mentality 2.) honor your hunger 3.) make peace with food 4.) challenge the food police 5.) feel your fullness 6.) discover the satisfaction factor 7.) cope with emotions without using food 8.) respect your body 9.) exercise-feel the difference and 10.) honor your health with gentle nutrition.

What does the research say?

Intuitive Eating was created by Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and their first book was published in 1995. Since then, there have been more than 60 studies done on Intuitive Eating and the research has shown many benefits such as improved satisfaction in life, self-esteem, self-compassion, optimism and body appreciation. The research also shows it is associated with lowered disordered eating, food preoccupation, food-related anxiety, body dissatisfaction, binge eating, uncontrolled eating and depression.  Research has also associated it with improved health biomarkers such as blood sugar and cholesterol.  Intuitive eating is now being embraced by public health departments, used in employee wellness programs, used as a required text in some university courses and is used as part of eating disorder treatment programs.

As a psychotherapist and yoga therapist, here are just some of the things that get me excited about sharing Intuitive Eating:

  • The practice encourages you to connect with yourself with the belief that you already have what you need within you. In yoga and psychotherapy philosophies this relates to connecting with our true self or authentic self and letting go of ego.
  • It requires the practice of mindfulness: non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.
  • It allows autonomy and leads to empowerment. Diets might provide the illusion of being in control. In reality, when we mindlessly follow external rules that conflict with our internal messages we are giving up our ability to make choices based on our own wisdom. This crosses a psychological boundary and it is a natural human response to rebel when our autonomy is threatened.
  • It focuses on improving body image with the practices of accepting and respecting your body.
  • It is all about meeting our needs through self-care and practicing self-compassion.

If you are interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating, I recommend the book, coaching audio (it’s not just a reading of the book) and the new workbook:

  • Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works
  • Intuitive Eating: A Practical Guide to Make Peace with Food, Free Yourself from Chronic Dieting, Reach Your Natural Weight, Audio CD
  • The Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food

All the above by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN